"David? It's Nick Hytner here on the South Bank. How are you coping with the financial crisis?"
"Nice of you to ask, Nick. Not too bad, actually. Like an old leftie, I keep all my money in the post office."
"That's not what I mean. I was wondering if you would like to write something about it. All those hedge funds and trillion dollar bailouts, the collapse of Lehmann Brothers. I've been reading about it in the FT and it's the real stuff of drama."
"You mean write a play about the City? My last effort at the Cottesloe about New Labour didn't set the world on fire, did it? I might be able to do something documentary, You know, go and talk to bankers and write down what they say, then get actors to say it on stage."
"Bringing the bankers to the South Bank? I like the sound of that. And we've done men in suits before -- Stuff Happens filled the Olivier, after all."
"Not the Olivier. Perhaps the Lyttelton this time. Does it matter if it isn't really a play?"
"Don't worry about that. The National has put on fifteen David Hare plays so far, and we're still counting. Our audience will come to see anything with your name on it. You're like Noel Coward."
"It's a deal, Nick. Can you put the money straight into my post office account?"
David Hare is careful to lower audience expectations right at the start. Anthony Calf, the actor playing The Author, marches up to the footlights and tells the audience they're not going to be seeing a real play, just a story. But it's too late to ask for a refund of my £10. A large cast, all male except for three females, stride purposefully in neat diagonals across the stage regurgitating things which their real counterparts have told The Author during his research. Various key words are projected above them in the style of a powerpoint presentation for those who have trouble keeping up with the lecture. The performance lasts for about 95 minutes, though for those who fall asleep halfway, as I did, the ordeal is somewhat shorter. I nodded off during an explanation of collateralised debt obligations. When I woke up Mr Calf was still poised quizzically with his notebook and pencil, asking diffident questions. The play has one or two interesting moments, but it's journalism, not drama. Possibly my long career in journalism explains why I found it less than riveting. David Hare has organised his material quite well and laced it with a few dashes of humour. Some of the sharpest lines come from an unnamed Financial Times journalist presumably based on Gillian Tett, whose training as an anthropologist gave her articles on the big crash a lot more human insight than her colleagues. But as a piece of theatre, it falls well short of Hare's earlier documentary plays The Permanent Way and Stuff Happens. The Permanent Way worked well on stage for two reasons; the opening scene had commuters scrambling into a crowded carriage to find a seat, forging an instant bond with the audience; and in Max Stafford-Clark's production there was a spectacular backprojected rail crash. Stuff Happens was also a men-in-suits sort of play with little action, but it at least had some invented dramatic dialogue featuring Tony Blair, George Bush, Colin Powell and others. The Power of Yes features only bankers, traders and journalists and is thus devoid of any characters who might set off an empathetic spark across the footlights. The playwright's portrayal of himself as an interviewer is a device which worked very well for Gregory Burke in Black Watch because it was used only briefly as a framing device, after which the real play took over. But Hare keeps it going all the way through. It's like going out to dinner and finding that the restaurant kitchen is closed and there are only crisps and peanuts. During my moments of wakefulness I fervently wished I was back in the Royal Court watching Lucy Prebble's Enron, which is an object lesson in how to bring obscure financial material to real dramatic life. I think I am probably going short on my holdings of David Hare until further notice. They're not worth what I thought they were worth when I bought them. Perhaps HM Treasury might like to take the shares off me in return for a nominal sum?